Friday, May 16, 2008

NASCAR Basics: The Tracks: Charlotte

Lowe's Motor SpeedwayImage by FLC via Flickr
Charlotte Motor Speedway is not actually in Charlotte, but in the neighboring suburb of Concord, North Carolina. It's the home field track for most of NASCAR; about 90% of NASCAR teams are headquartered within 50 miles of the Charlotte/Concord area.

Bruton Smith and Curtis Turner partnered to open Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1960. The track had some financial difficulties and both men left or were forced out, but Smith bought up shares in the track, and by 1975 had become the majority stockholder. He hired H. A. "Humpy" Wheeler as general manager and the two worked tirelessly to turn CMS into one of the crown jewels of the NASCAR circuit. Smith Tower, the Speedway Club, luxury skyboxes, and other up-to-date amenities were added to the track. In 1984, the track became the first sports facility in America to offer year-round living accommodations; 40 condominiums were built overlooking Turn One. Twelve additional units were added in 1991. In 1992, a $1.7 million, 1200 fixture lighting system was added. It somehow uses mirrors so that lighting can be provided without glare, shadows, or obtrusive light poles.

In 1999 Charlotte Motor Speedway fell victim to the corporate naming rights frenzy that was just taking hold in the world of sports. Lowe's bought the rights and the track became Lowe's Motor Speedway.  The original agreement was for 10 years and expired at the end of 2008.  Lowe's extended the agreement for one year -- for the 2009 season, but declined to extend the agreement any further.  In January 2010, the track's name officially became Charlotte Motor Speedway again.

CMS is now a huge complex that includes the 1.5-mile quad-oval, a 2.25-mile road course that meanders around the infield, a 0.6 mile kart track, a quarter-mile asphalt oval, a one-fifth mile oval, and a 0.4 mile clay oval. In 2007 there was a big to-do over a proposed drag racing facility at LMS. After residents of a nearby subdivision protested about the noise and blocked Smith's plans, he threatened to close Lowe's down and build a new speedway elsewhere. City and county officials, fearing a huge loss of revenue, offered Smith the moon to get him to stay. Smith got his drag strip and it hosted its first NHRA event in September of 2008.

But all the NASCAR action takes place on the 1.5 mile quad-oval. A driver spends about two-thirds of every lap turning so downforce is important. The frontstretch is 1980 ft. long, the backstretch 1500. The turns have 24 degrees of banking, the straightaways five. Most passing is done around Turns Three and Four where there are two racing grooves, but the track narrows coming out of Four and you usually see a lot of incidents as the cars head back down the frontstretch toward the start/finish line. The track seats 167,000 and another 50,000 or so can be crammed into the infield.

Elliott Sadler holds the Sprint Cup qualifying record, 193.216 mph, set in October 2005.  Jimmie Johnson, Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip are tied with six wins each at the track.

There's something going on at Charlotte Motor Speedway about 300 days out of the year with 380 some-odd events scheduled, including the twice-yearly Food Lion Auto Fair, several driving schools, Dirt Late Models, Modifieds, Sprint Cars, Monster Trucks, Bandoleros, Legends Cars, Thunder Roadsters, and World Karting Association races.

CMS hosts four Sprint Cup races per year.  In May, on the weekend before Memorial Day,  CMS hosts the Sprint All-Star Race, a preliminary race -- the Sprint Showdown, and a Camping World Truck Series race.  Both Cup races are non-points exhibitions.  The All-Star Race is open to drivers who have won races in the current and previous season, past champions, and past winners of the event.  Drivers who aren't otherwise eligible to compete in the Sprint All-Star Race compete in the Sprint Showdown.  The winner, the second-place finisher, and a driver who wins a fan vote advance to race in the All-Star Race.

On Memorial Day weekend, CMS hosts the longest race on the NASCAR schedule, the Coca-Cola 600, and a Nationwide race.  In October, Charlotte Motor Speedway hosts the Bank of America 500, the fifth race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, and a second Nationwide race.

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NASCAR Tracks index page
Charlotte race winners
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